By Mark Madden
Beaver County Times
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
You wouldn't want to be the guy who follows a legend.
You'd want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows a legend.
Paul Steigerwald is the former. He took over as the Penguins' TV play-by-play broadcaster in 2006-07, succeeding the incomparable Mike Lange.
Will Doc Emrick, the voice of network hockey, be the latter?
Rumors are flying that Steigerwald will be replaced. His contract is expiring. So is Emrick's pact with the New Jersey Devils. Emrick has a modicum of Pittsburgh roots, having taught speech and broadcasting from 1969-71 at Geneva College in Beaver Falls. He's a die-hard Pirates fan. Penguins management feels the club has become an international brand worthy of a big-name announcer.
Steigerwald would be offered another job within the Penguins organization, a franchise he's served non-stop since 1980. Steve Mears would fill in when Emrick misses Penguins games to do network duty. Lange, now on radio, would be kept in his current capacity. Same with color commentators Bob Errey and Phil Bourque.
That's the rumor. Will it become reality?
Not sure. Emrick has been with the Devils non-stop since 1993. Why would he want to leave?
If the Penguins want a big name, put Lange back on TV. Fox Sports Pittsburgh (now Root Sports) canned Lange because he cost too much. Emrick would cost more. I wouldn't want to be there when Lange gets told Emrick has been hired as the Penguins' TV voice, and for better than Lange had been earning.
Ditching Steigerwald adds nothing tangible. The Penguins have 210 consecutive sellouts. TV ratings are huge. Advertising dough is plentiful. Aesthetics shouldn't matter, not even a little bit. Why tinker with a successful formula?
Penguins management reportedly feels Steigerwald is lazy and often lacks preparation. Too worried about appearance, not enough about content. Management also feels Steigerwald is unworried about these concerns.
Steigerwald also made a tasteless joke about the death of Hobey Baker, the namesake of college hockey's Heisman, during a Dec. 22, 2009 broadcast. The remark was innocuous, but gave Steigerwald's critics ammunition. The New York Islanders got upset when Steigerwald excoriated their team during the chaotic Penguins-Islanders all-night brawl this past Feb. 11, but Steigerwald was right.
I wouldn't dump Steigerwald. But I would never have taken Lange off TV, either. Poverty is no excuse. If you can't afford quality, get out of the business. That criticism applies to Root Sports just like it does Pirates ownership.
Announcers don't matter to me. I never watch (or turn off) a sporting event because of one. Most stink. Howard Cosell was the last one to drive ratings and draw money, because he was the last one allowed to be unique.
I enjoy Lange a great deal, sure. And sometimes Steigerwald does make me nuts. Like when he effusively praises winger Chris Conner, perhaps because they're both undersized overachievers. Conner doesn't belong in the NHL.
But me disagreeing with Steigerwald on certain hockey matters doesn't make the broadcast bad. In fact, it makes it more interesting.
Steigerwald's a homer. So are the rest of the Penguins broadcasters. That's what they're told to be by the franchise, and by their respective outlets. It's just not as obvious with Lange because he's better. He can walk that tightrope.
This is far from a done deal. Emrick is 64. He might not want to relocate, or he might choose to not work for any team and just do his network chores.
Hiring Emrick would do right by the Penguins franchise's vanity. Putting Lange back on TV would do right by the majority of Penguins fans. And leaving the broadcasting situation like it is would be right, period.